With Eddie Alvarez out, Michael Chandler's chances of recapturing the lightweight title have improved dramatically.
Chandler (12-1) will battle Bellator season nine lightweight tournament winner Will Brooks for the organization's interim lightweight championship this weekend (Sat., May 17, 2014) at Bellator 120: "Rampage vs. King Mo," which takes place at Landers Center in Southaven, Mississippi.
Their scrap is set for the co-main event.
The massive favorite can't underestimate "Ill Will," who has been itching for a shot at the gold ever since beating Alexander Sarnavskiy last fall at Bellator 109. The 27-year-old combatant had to sit on the sidelines, though, since "Alvarez vs. Chandler 3" was a far more entertaining option.
Chandler hasn't competed since his narrow defeat to Alvarez at Bellator 106, losing the coveted strap. It was his first-ever loss since mustering up a record of nine consecutive wins under the Bellator banner.
Let's break down both fighters below:
Big Wins: David Rickels (Bellator 97), Akihiro Gono (Bellator 67), Eddie Alvarez (Bellator 58)
Crushing Losses: Eddie Alvarez (Bellator 106)
What He Needs To Do In Order To Win: Chandler has to do what he does best and that's come out swinging in full force. He's spectacular everywhere, so it's hard to get into specifics as to where he should take this fight.
The former champion has swarmed opponents en route to a finish before, so look for him to make things violent early. He's a dynamic fighter and there's no playing it safe when it comes to his fighting style. If he has a chance to hurt his adversary early, you best believe he's going to try to get off work early.
The Las Vegas-based fighter is excellent when it comes to wrestling and submissions, yet it would be favorable for him to stand against his opponent. His knockout power is no joke, so he should set up his shots as scare tactics until he lands the killer blow.
What He Needs To Avoid: It sounds a little obvious, but Chandler has to avoid making stupid mistakes. The most important facet is that he can't underestimate Brooks whatsoever. Since he's not fighting Alvarez for a third time and it's likely he prepared for that type of opponent, he can't go into the cage thinking Brooks is going to be a walk in the park.
When he's standing up, he needs to close the distance. He can't fool around too much with the reach and he needs to press forward. He also shouldn't engage in a grappling war against Brooks. Unless he can scoop him up and put him on his behind to make a statement, Chandler shouldn't make it a wrestling match.
Even though he may have the advantage there.
Big Wins: Alexander Sarnavskiy (Bellator 109), Saad Awad (Bellator 105), John Alessio (Bellator 101)
Crushing Losses: Saad Awad (Bellator 91)
What He Needs To Do In Order To Win: Keeping in mind Brooks is the underdog and almost nobody is giving him a chance, he needs to be ultra confident in himself.
"Ill Will" has to come out desperate, yet it doesn't mean he has to rush things or go for broke. He's good at keeping his distance and utilizing his leg kicks by going high with them. If he makes it difficult for Chandler to close the gap and lands shots from afar, he can find success there.
But, the Bellator season nine lightweight tournament winner should go a different route and lock up his opponent every chance he gets. He's solid in the clinch and he can relentlessly try to take his foe down over and over again in order to frustrate him. Chandler is a NCAA Division-I wrestler, so the Midwest Training Center combatant needs to be ready for a test of strength.
What He Needs To Avoid: Apart from Chandler in general, he can't be sloppy. One mistake could land him on Queer Street, so he needs to cover up when necessary and avoid looking flashy or experimental. He's a good striker, but he's not a technical one. If he plays Chandler's game, he's cooked.
The Illinois native also needs to be careful of Chandler's fight-ending submissions, which can come out of nowhere. Even though Brooks can find success on the mat, it doesn't mean he can coast once he gets there. Like Wu-Tang Clan once said, he needs to protect his neck and he definitely can't let The Alliance MMA product get a hold of a limb.
Final Assessment: This fight is an interesting one; however, with the disappointment of Alvarez pulling out still fresh in the minds of the observers, the enthusiasm just isn't there and not many pundits are giving Brooks a shot at winning.
Whether or not they believe he can compete against Chandler or if fans would rather see Chandler win the belt so he can defend it against Alvarez in a rubber match, it has left Brooks with no real chance of beating Chandler. The upset is possible, since we've seen an abundance of them in the past 20 years, but all roads lead to the former champion securing the belt once again.
If all this is true, then we're destined to see a violent finish or a shocking result.